"Every family needs a hero," touts promotional material for Nicholas Nickleby, the latest release from United Artists/Cloud Nine Films. And while the Lord Jesus is not the hero per se in this family or film, the underlying themes of good vs. evil, brotherly love, innocence and the battle against social injustice should resonate with Christian audiences.

 

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby was written for the screen and directed by Douglas McGrath, whose previous work includes Bullets Over Broadway and the adaptation of Jane Austin's Emma.

 

McGrath, who along with key cast members met with reporters in December, said he wanted to make the film "because it has something really inspiring to say to people." Nicholas Nickleby has a message "it never hurts to hear, and that's what makes it a classic - its message is always necessary to whatever generation hears it." According to McGrath, that message says good can triumph over evil.

 

"One of the harsh truths is that there is evil in the world," McGrath explained. "How do you go into a world that is full of hostile and unsympathetic people and find the good people?  How do you resist the bad ones and hold on to your natural honor?  Overcoming these obstacles is what makes Nicholas such an inspiring hero. Nicholas battles the various villains that confront him and retains his own innate goodness, coming out a better, stronger person."

 

According to McGrath, Charles Dickens was not just a storyteller, but a reform-minded philosopher.  "He was not only ambitious for himself, but for a better world. He did not create his novels merely to exercise his storytelling skills, but to expose the cancers of the society in which his readers lived and, through their exposure, inspire improvement. By creating the stories he did and wounding us when terrible things happen to the people he has made us love, he enlists his readers in his causes."

 

One of the most lovable characters is a kindhearted and mistreated orphan named Smike. Played by Jamie Bell, best known for his role as "Billy Elliot," Smike has led an exceedingly miserable life. But Nicholas brings a ray of kindness and hope into Smike's dark world. According to the young actor, "I think the love that Smike has for Nicholas is a brotherly love; Nicholas is a hero for Smike. He's a savior and I think we all need saving at some point."  

 

Charlie Hunnam, who plays Nicholas, was so passionate about the role that he flew himself to New York to meet with the producers. Hunnam said the role appealed to him because "the general state of humanity and the world is in such a precarious place, that I thought it would be nice to do something based on honor and virtue and goodness. Those are words that aren't too fashionable with young people and not something that many young people aspire to."

 

Because the character of Nicholas is so virtuous and because he takes on a type of savior role with both Smike and his own sister, some writers have called him "Christ-like." When asked about the comparison, Hunnam said, "The film is about goodness and I guess that was Jesus' whole deal-be good to your fellow man - and Nicholas has a pretty healthy respect for that. There are obvious parallels, too, as Nicholas goes on his journey and touches people's lives along the way and becomes a real champion in the fight of good against evil."